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08th Sep 2016

We shouldn’t be called goalkeepers any more, we are more like goal players – Pepe Reina talks to SportsJOE

The former Liverpool number one offers up his thoughts on Joe Hart and more

Tony Barrett

Few, if any, are better placed to understand why Joe Hart became surplus to requirements at Manchester City and what he now faces in Italy than Pepe Reina.

As a former team mate of Pep Guardiola who went on to work under him at Bayern Munich, Reina has a rare insight into the unique demands of being a goalkeeper in one of his teams. Having made the switch from the Premier League to Serie A, he is also able to speak with experience about what the England international is about to come up against. 

Speaking after finishing training at Napoli’s Centro Sportivo Castel Volturno training ground, almost 40 kilometres from the centre of Naples, Reina admits the situation that Hart finds himself in is one that he has given some thought to and not just out of a sense of solidarity with a fellow member of the goalkeepers union.

NAPLES, ITALY - AUGUST 27: Jose Manuel Reina of Napoli in action before the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and AC Milan at Stadio San Paolo on August 27, 2016 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images)

“It is harder when you are a keeper and you have to move,” he says. “If you are an outfield player you have many more options but as a keeper who wants to play football at the highest level there are nowhere near as many clubs that you can join.”

That, in an essence, is why Hart finds himself in Turin looking forward to his Serie A debut on Sunday when Torino, who he joined on a season long loan last week, face Atalanta.

Ideally, if truth be told, the 29-year-old wouldn’t have hoped to have landed at a club that finished a distant twelfth in its most recent domestic campaign but in a summer when so few clubs were in the market for a goalkeeper he had no choice but to take what was available. According to Reina, though, neither being moved on by Guardiola nor moving to a mid-table Italian team should define Hart.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24: Joe Hart of Manchester City waves to fans after the UEFA Champions League Play-off Second Leg match between Manchester City and Steaua Bucharest at Etihad Stadium on August 24, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

“Of course not,” Reina says. “Circumstances are so important. I have played against Hart and I know what a good goalkeeper he is. No one should question his ability. He has won big trophies with City and been a big part of their success. But almost every player knows that there will be times when clubs change manager and go in a different direction and you have to accept that and move on. That is what Hart has done and he should be respected for that but no one should be thinking he is a lesser player because of that.”

In Hart’s case, the circumstances seemed harsher than most. Having spent most of his career being lauded for what he does with his hands, Guardiola’s arrival ensured the focus shifted to what he could – or, more accurately, couldn’t – do with his feet.

Reina, brought up with the same Barcelona principles as Guardiola, sympathises. “The game has changed so much for keepers because a lot of managers now expect us to be able to start play from the back as well as keep goals out.

“I don’t think we should be called goalkeepers any more because we are more like goal players. That is more the case if you are in a Guardiola team than if you are in any other and that’s why he felt signing Claudio Bravo from Barcelona was so important to the way he wants City to play.

“I have seen people say that Hart isn’t good with his feet but that isn’t true. In terms of the speed and precision of his passes he is very good. The difference is that Bravo has been a goal player for many years and does not have to learn Guardiola’s methods and that is why Hart was replaced. But he remains a top class keeper. There is no question about that.”

PORTO, PORTUGAL - APRIL 14: Head coach Pep Guardiola talks with goalkeeper Pepe Reina during a FC Bayern Muenchen Training Session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final First Leg match between Porto and FC Bayern Muenchen at Estadio do Dragao on April 14, 2015 in Porto, Portugal. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Reina went through a similar experience three years ago when Brendan Rodgers’s decision to replace him with Simon Mignolet resulted in him joining Napoli where he had to come to terms with a different style of football in a different country.

The good news for Hart is that he has no need to prepare himself for a bombardment. “It is more tactical and less physical here,” Reina says. “If you go for a high ball under pressure and don’t claim it there’s a strong possibility that you will be given a free kick because the keepers get much more protection here than they do in England.

“Every team plays its own way but I would say that after Napoli, last season Torino were one of the teams who play shortest; they liked to play from the back and that means the keeper has to be involved. But they have changed managers with Sinisa Mihajlovic replacing Giampiero Ventura so maybe their style will become a little bit different. But however they play I wouldn’t expect Hart to have too many problems because he has played at the top level for so long.”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24: Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola gestures during the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

As for the man who decided Hart was no longer needed at City, Reina delivers a similar verdict. “Guardiola was my first captain at Barcelona and even then you could tell that he wasn’t going to just be a manager, he was going to be a top manager. He was always the leader, inside and outside the dressing room and it was like having a manager on the pitch because he was always thinking about what the team could do to play better and always driving his team mates on.

“My first memories of him are of when I first went into the dressing room because that is never easy for any young player. He was there with the likes of Luis Enrique, Sergei Barjuan, Abelardo Fernandez and Rivaldo and that could have been intimidating because they were all players who had achieved so much and who were references for the club. Everyone will remember how great they were on the pitch but my biggest memories of them are of how they were as people and Guardiola was a big, big part of that.

“They were easy to work with and that made it an enjoyable experience and one in which it was easy to learn what it meant to be a Barcelona player. As captain, Guardiola had extra responsibilities and that meant it wasn’t an easy role to take on but he took to it like a fish to water. That’s how naturally he leads. He understood Barcelona as well as anyone because he was a Catalan who had come through all of the ranks of the club, but it wasn’t just that knowledge that set him apart, it was also the way he could inspire the players around him, especially the young players.

“That’s how we knew he would go on to become a manager. He had everything you need – intelligence, knowledge and understanding of the game – so it was totally natural that he eventually took charge of Barcelona and did so well there, although I have to admit that no-one could have predicted that he would create a team that would cause everyone in the football world to ask if there had ever been a better one.”

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - JUNE 29: Second Spanish goalkeeper Pepe Reina (R) and teammate David Villa celebrate after the UEFA EURO 2008 Final match between Germany and Spain at Ernst Happel Stadion on June 29, 2008 in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

As far as Reina is concerned, Guardiola is “one of the best managers in the world, if not the very best,” an opinion that is shared by many who have worked with him. It was when his former Barcelona team mate took him on loan to Bayern Munich as Manuel Neuer’s understudy two years ago that Reina was given an insight into the qualities that he believes set Guardiola apart. “The first thing that has to be mentioned is his willingness to work,” Reina says.

“All managers work hard in the modern game. The demands are so great and the pressure is so high that they have no choice. But I don’t think there are many who think so intensely about football in general and about games coming up as he does. It is easy to see what he does during games because the cameras are on him a lot of the time when he is directing the team from the touchline and the work he does on the training pitch is also clear because it comes out in matches. But the part that most people do not see is when he is in his office working on his methods, writing down ideas and trying to find solutions to whatever problems the team has and ways of beating their opponents.

“He does this so much and that is why he comes up with so many ideas, things that we now think are normal but when he did them they were new and different. One of the best examples is the way he used full backs inside so that his teams would be able to create a superiority over the pitch. You see lots of teams do it now but he was the one who did it first and who did it best. People ask will he be a success in England but he has been a success in Spain and in Germany and he will be using the same methods and working just as hard so I don’t see why not.”

NAPLES, ITALY - JANUARY 06: Pepe Reina of Napoli celebrates after the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Torino FC at Stadio San Paolo on January 6, 2016 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)

A little over five hours after Guardiola’s first experience of the Manchester derby has drawn to a close, Reina will take to the field in Palermo as Napoli look to continue their unbeaten start to the new campaign. In last season’s corresponding fixture, Gonzalo Higuain was the difference between the two sides as he struck a decisive penalty on his way to becoming the first player to score 36 goals in a single Serie A season.

Higuain, though, is no longer with the Azzurri, having moved to Juventus in a £76.5 million move earlier this summer. Losing Higuain was bad enough for Napoli but the fact that he joined the club that beat them to the title last season added to the size of the blow even if it was softened by such a gargantuan fee.

But by reinvesting the proceeds of Higuain’s sale in the purchases of Arkadiusz Milik, Piotr Zielinski, Amadou Diawara and Lorenzo Tonelli, Reina believes Napoli now have greater strength in depth even if he accepts Juventus will once again set the standard that everyone else must match. “Our target is simple – to fight like lions,” he says. “Juve are strong favourites, like they are most years, and we know they are an extremely tough rival to overcome because of the resources that they have. But we have a better squad now so all we can do is give everything that we have and see how far it takes us.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: Jose Reina of Liverpool gestures during the Carling Cup Final match between Liverpool and Cardiff City at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

“I am really happy to be here. It is a club where I have been made to feel really important and this season we are playing Champions League which is positive in itself.” Next season, he hopes Napoli will be joined in European’s elite by Liverpool, his former club, for whom he still holds a great deal of affection. “I’m optimistic about their chances,” he says.

“It looks like they have done some good business in the transfer window and I think they can fight to finish in the top three. In Jurgen Klopp they have a manager who is absolutely right for the club. His personality, hunger, ambition and style of football are exactly what they needed so I am hoping they will do well this season.”

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